Posts tagged ‘LOTS’

Google Has Pissed Me Off

Over the last several weeks, I have fallen in love with the Google feed reader.  It is simple to use, and perfectly matches the way I want to work.  It was as if someone smart at Google ignored all the competitive readers out there and said "how should a reader be built"

Today, Google introduced a new interface which I hate, and said it would soon discontinue the old user interface I loved.  Basically, they threw out the old, simple interface (which was so Google-ish) and replaced it with a Bloglines/FeedDemon/etc. clone.  This new version looks as if a new programmer never read a feed in his life but just went out and tried to copy existing products.  Those of you who like the way bloglines works but would rather a Google branded version will be happy.  Many of us who loved the old version are angry.

I may be reading too much into this, but it seems like a small but definite step in the Microsoftization of Google, replacing simple intuitive software with bloated feature-packed messes.

Update:  Here is how I would describe the difference between the interfaces:  For those who read feeds once and then never come back to them, like reading the paper in the morning then throwing it out, the old interface was perfect.  Those who read feeds more like email, where they read it once but then want to be able to find it again later, or who read non-sequentially, jumping to certain feeds they consider more important than others, will like the new interface much better.  That's why the new interface looks a lot more like the Google email client.  My only disapointment is that there are LOTS of products servicing this latter market, and the old interface was the only product I have found to service the former.

Filing Sales Taxes Online

Just finished up preparing our sales tax returns for October.  We file in 9 states (Oregon does not have a sales tax) and about 5 municipalities or counties.  Being located outside of cities cuts down on the number of separate returns we have to file, but being in the lodging business adds returns (there are a lot of local lodging taxes out there).  NONE of these taxes work the same, and every return is unique.

I am working on a longer post with some observations about sales taxes, the states that have it right and the states that are over-complicated messes.  However, in the mean time, one observation.  Most states offer an online filing option.  If every state had a nice online tool, or better yet, a tool I could upload data to right out of Excel, I would love it.  This is a true win-win, with the business owner saving time and the state saving LOTS of time by not having to re-key handwritten returns.

However, several states currently have awful, totally non-intuitive online filing systems, or systems that are down all the time, or systems that make correcting errors a real pain in the butt, or all three.  The problem is, in most states, there is no way to try before you switch.  Many states play a kind of brinkmanship, requiring that if you file even once online, you can never go back to paper.  I did this with one state and the online tool really sucked, and now I am stuck  using it, despite the fact that their paper return is easier to use.

So, as a result of this nutty requirement, despite being totally committed to doing things online, I sit here filing paper returns, too risk-adverse to play Russian Roulette with various states' online filing systems.

Is the Department of Labor "Fair"? Part 1 of a series

Note that this is part 1 of a three-part series. Here are part 2 and part3.

Over the past several years, we have been audited a couple of times by the Department of Labor (DOL). One of the audits was standard procedure (as a concessionaire to the US Forest Service, audits are sometimes required on certain contracts) and one was based on employee complaints. It never ceases to amaze me that some folks never even bother to call our HQ to complain and try to get it paycheck mistakes fixed -- they go straight to the government rather than our labor department if something looks wrong on their check.

Many times I have heard other small business owners say that the DOL is not "fair". If you were to ask me if I think they are fair, I would answer "yes" and "no". If you want to know if DOL employees are generally honest, well-intentioned, and law-abiding, my experience is that they are. However, if you expect, as a business owner, that the DOL will act as some kind of neutral court of law, in which you and your workers have equal status and equal rules of evidence, then you are in for a surprise. The DOL is not on the employers side and doesn't really pretend to be.

This should not come as a surprise to you. Young lawyers out of school generally don't seek out lower government pay scales with a vision of helping businesses manage their cost structures. They join the DOL because they are interested in defending downtrodden workers against rapacious capitalists who seek to exploit them (etc. etc.) The main mission of the DOL is to enforce labor laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). However, overlaying this mission is a strong institutional culture that mission 1A is to defend workers against employers. This culture will have a number of implications in any dealings you, as an owner or employer, have with the DOL:

1. Workers claims will almost always be believed by the DOL, and the DOL will generally not require much documentary evidence to back up workers claims. The flip side of this is that employers claims that contradict workers will always require extensive documentary evidence. For example, we had several weeks of time sheets burn up in an office fire. In cases like this, the DOL will generally always side with the worker's recollection of time worked rather than the employers, even if the time claimed is completely inconsistent with hours worked in all other documented weeks. The burden of proof, in almost any dispute, will be on the employer.

2. The DOL's first answer to any employer's claims of an exemption under FLSA or other labor laws will be "NO". Congress has granted a number of exemptions to labor laws for certain business situations. For example, one that applies to our business in some cases is the FLSA has relaxed standards for overtime for "seasonal recreation businesses". From my experience, the DOL hates to admit that these exceptions apply to your particular situation. Back to the fairness point, they CAN be convinced, but sometimes it takes a lot of work to do so. In part 2 and part 3 of this series, I will give more specific examples of how to do this.

3. The DOL will never point out to you an exemption or saving that you are missing. I know that many people get frustrated with the IRS, but I have actually had experiences where the IRS found a mistake where I had overpaid. I have never had this experience with the DOL. The DOL does not really have very good staff or tools to help employers comply with the law in the most efficient manner. They have LOTS of tools and people dedicated to making sure workers get every bit of what the law guarantees them.

If you recognize this culture and context, and put any frustration that you might have as a tax-paying citizen and business owner aside, you can get a fair shake from the DOL. You just have to be prepared in advance to argue your case and bring lots of evidence to bear. And, if worst comes to worse, and you are willing to pay the attorney fees, you can always refuse the DOL's finding and take the case to a court of law, where there are much more neutral evidence standards.

The next part of this series will discuss further some examples and lessons learned in making your case to the DOL. Part 3 of the series will include a specific example.

Note: These are my observations as a business owner and are not specific recommendations. I am not a lawyer, and, even if I were, I am not your lawyer.